VATICAN CITY (AP) — The moment Cardinal Albino Luciani learned his colleagues had elected him pope, he responded: "May God forgive you for what you've done." The remark, by the man who became Pope John Paul I, was seen as an expression of humility — but also a commentary on the mammoth task ahead.
There is no job like that of pope. He is the CEO of a global enterprise, head of state, a moral voice in the world and, in the eyes of Roman Catholics, Christ's representative on earth. And the man who emerges as pontiff from the conclave starting Tuesday has a particularly crushing to-do list.
Here are some of the challenges awaiting the next pope:
The next pope will have to restore discipline to the scandal-plagued central administration of the church. Benedict XVI, the former pope, commissioned a report on the Vatican bureaucracy, or Curia, that will be shown only to his successor. Benedict's butler had leaked the pope's private papers revealing feuding, corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of administration. The secretive Vatican bank recently ousted a president for incompetence and is under pressure for greater financial transparency. Bishops in several countries say nonresponsive Vatican officials are hampering local churches. The Curia decides everything from bishop appointments and liturgy, to parish closings and discipline for abusive priests.
The Vatican remains under pressure to reveal more about its past role in the church's failures to protect children worldwide. The issue erupted ahead of the conclave, when victims from the U.S., Chile and Mexico pressured cardinals to recuse themselves because they had shielded priests from prosecution. Benedict instructed bishops around the world to craft policies to keep abusers from the priesthood, but church leaders in some nations haven't yet complied. "There's still the victims," Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a news conference last week. "The wound is still deep in their hearts, and as long as it's with them it will be with us. The pope has to keep this in mind."
Secularism has already taken a toll on churches in Europe and the U.S., where a growing number of people don't identify with a faith. The move away from organized religion is also hurting parishes in Latin America. Churches in Brazil and other predominantly Catholic countries in South America already had been losing members to the spirited worship found in independent Pentecostal movements. As the church loses members, it also loses influence in public life in many countries. Church opposition to same-sex marriage has been largely ineffective in the West. The next pope must be a missionary-in-chief, with the gravitas, charisma and personal holiness to bring Catholics back to church.
Europe and North America need more priests. Clergy in developing countries need more resources. And everywhere, priests are struggling with the outsized burdens of the modern-day pastor. The job requires fundraising, personal counseling and an ability to uphold doctrine, often to Catholics who don't want to listen. The abuse crisis, meanwhile, casts a shadow on today's clergy, even though most known molestation cases occurred decades ago. In recent years, some priests have made their own proposals to strengthen their ranks. Clergy in heavily Catholic Austria in 2011 called for ordaining women and relaxing the celibacy requirement. Benedict rebuked them.
Catholics and other Christians live as religious minorities in many countries, including Syria, India and China, where they face discrimination, government interference and, in many cases, violence as they try to practice their faith. The issue is a rare one that unites religious leaders across faiths. The pope is considered a key voice in the fight. Some of the tougher conditions are in Muslim nations, which often ban and punish Christian evangelizing. Addressing the issue requires utmost diplomacy; a misstep can cost lives.
While the church is shrinking in the West, it's booming in Africa and Asia. The new pope will have to shift much of his attention to the challenges for these relatively new dioceses: a life-and-death fight against poverty; threats from radical Muslim movements; and maintaining Catholic orthodoxy while leaving room for local styles of worship.
The new pope will have to keep up friendships with a long list of other Christian groups and other religions, including Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Jews. But his most pressing task will be navigating relations with Islam. The importance of the issue was made starkly clear in the fallout from Benedict's 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman." Benedict made many efforts to mend fences, including praying beside an imam that same year at the historic Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
The next pontiff inherits a church divided over the role of lay people and women, on doctrine and social justice teaching — even on what is required to be considered Catholic. In Benedict's final audience with cardinals, he urged them to work "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached despite diversity. He could have been talking to the whole church.
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